To parallel the dichotomy of our favorite “hokey religion,” I will address the The Force Awakens from two perspectives. How are you to recognize the good side from the bad? You will know!
Much of being an effective director comes from solid casting. So from that notion, J.J. Abrams did an excellent job of directing this movie.
Daisey Ridley is a very rare Mary Poppins: she’s practically perfect in every way. She displays the rare thespian gift of physical charisma. This does not speak to her corporeal beauty, but rather to the notion that she carries herself in a believable manner for this universe. For contrast, this was problematic for George Lucas/Hayden Christensen/Natalie Portman (and even someone like Sam Jackson) in the prior installments. Sure, Christensen played the “great warrior” aspect well, but both he and Portman were difficult to settle your eyes upon as they never seemed to appear comfortable. Ridley truly commands a viewer’s gaze within the frame.
Harrison Ford kills the quips. Chewie rocks his best role yet. Oscar Isaac was great. John Boyega was good even though Finn seemed fairly underdeveloped (perhaps befitting of a character raised to be nothing but a stormtrooper). Adam Driver was a very convincing Kylo Ren. A big highlight comes from his sorrowful admission to the anguish caused by the widening spectrum of The Force’s influence. It feels very much akin to the addictive nature The One Ring holds over Frodo Baggins.
But the best new character in Star Wars isn’t played by any actor. I was admittedly very skeptical of BB-8 before seeing the movie, but the droid rolls as a wonderful merging of WALL-E’s mannerisms and color to the voice of EVE.
OBLIGATORY SPOILER WARNING FROM HERE ON OUT
There were maybe three moments that really nailed me with a hard case of The Feels. The first was the reveal of the Millennium Falcon, a character in it’s own right. The second was Rey’s flashback/premonition induced by Anakin’s lightsaber. And though it brought to mind the best scene from all of Harry Potter, my heart skipped a beat when the lower corridors of Cloud City appeared in her vision. The third really great moment involves, naturally, the Son of Skywalker. Having spent the majority of his career as a prominent voice actor, the idea that Mark Hamill wouldn’t say a word during this installment is really quite amusing. The look on his face nearly brought tears to my eyes. Anguish, disappointment, defeat, yet hope and redemption? ¡Increíble!
But again, there were only three moments here for me. Which brings me to…
I’ve had several days to sit on this and really mull it over. So now I’m just gonna say it: The Force Awakens ranks #7 out of all 7 Star Wars movies in terms of story strength. That’s right. It’s worse than all three members of the Prequel Trilogy (PT).
Eps 1-3 have MANY flaws (others might use terms that are less sparing). But the overarching story of a prophesied Christ of the Force and his transformation into a principal for genocide remains quite compelling. Additional themes of note include: the dangers of religious dogma, the faults in a merged church and state, and a caution to the strength of deregulated financial institutions. We also received a solid glance at a larger galaxy with a better understanding for how The Old Republic operated in the heyday of the Guardians of Peace and Justice. So on paper, the PT was actually pretty awesome. It was just terribly executed.
Opposite is true for The Force Awakens, a bad story executed reasonably well. Abrams/Kasdan like to talk about how they wanted these new movies to be reminiscent of the Original Trilogy (OT) which is naturally admirable. What they didn’t tell us was that they would take the safest route possible to barf out a lackadaisical fucking reboot of A New Hope. Did they really think that Star Wars loyalists would miss this?
Good guy hides crucial item in droid that’s very important to Leia’s team. Droid evades bad guys. Fresh-faced desert-dweller picks up droid. Leaves planet in Millennium Falcon with new friends narrowly escaping bad guys. Oh and there’s also a bar/opium den involving Han + Chewie + aliens. Later: new friend’s info helps Leia’s team figure out how to blow up a planet-destroying superweapon. Then X-Wings and TIE Fighters fight and the planet-destroying superweapon gets blow’d up.
HOLY SHIT ARE YOU SERIOUS? This is is the exact same fucking story as Ep 4! I can forgive many many things but a DEATH STAR for the third time in four sequential chapters reflects incompetence at every level. Disney/Kennedy/Abrams/Kasdan had EVERY SINGLE RESOURCE at their disposal yet this was their Plan A. Did the backroom monkeys look at the numbers and go “well it worked twice before. So let’s just…use…it…again?” COME ON!
“But dude, it played to the nostalgia just so well.” I’m sorry, but that’s just unacceptable. If you want nostalgia, go pop A New Hope into your VCR. Bringing the OT’s characters back should be enough to fulfill your sentimental quota. Giving the characters funny one-liners that reference a former era does the same job. A sequel to Return of the Jedi with the same cast should already be a shoe-in for success yet NOTHING these writers could derive from the Lucasfilm Holocron inspired a new course. Instead, Disney chose a plot device that was too dated for even their own amusement park ride. Do you feel insulted yet? Because all they did was sell you the original Star Tours.
“I know audiences feed on crap, but I cannot believe we are so lacking that we cannot dish it up to them with some trace of originality.”-Darryl F. Zanuck.
Star Wars is the great American Hollywood success story. It set the standard for rewarding innovation. So where Disney/Kennedy/Abrams/Kasdan had the chance to take bigger risks with broader unseen concepts, they instead chose the safer road akin to The Avengers (which was totally forgettable other than the one moment).
“Well most people don’t seem to agree with you. Look how much money it made.” I clearly do not share their optimistic appraisal of the situation. The large majority of real Star Wars fans are grown adults that should be able to tell the difference between an homage and a blatant hackjob ripoff. Take a peak out the Star Wars window there and tell me what you see. Because there’s a 42.9% chance of a fucking DEATH STAR!
Disney/Abrams thought they could separate themselves from the PT with the inclusion of familiar characters while touting the construction of practical sets/effects. The critical praise seems to reflect success there. But I am most displeased by their apparent lack of progress because they half-assed the most important part of a movie, the story.
I gave pause back in November to the idea that George Lucas’ influence would no longer have any bearing on the future films. And it turns out my suspicions were valid. You know what this movie could have used? Someone behind it with an original thought in their brain. I’m not saying Lucas needs to actually pen the dialogue. But Kasdan clearly wasn’t capable of bringing a relevant new concept to the forefront.
“But Han Solo died. That was unexpected and fresh and dark and cool and stuff.” I can admit that I enjoyed the moment and dialogue between Han and Ren. But the death was all-but-assured as soon as Episode 7 was announced. The concept of a combo Solo death/Luke disappearance dates back to ROTJ. Harrison Ford has talked about his Solo death wish for years.
“Well what more could you really want? J.J.’s a real fan that made a movie for the fans.”
Part of me wonders if Abrams and Kasdan actually watched the original trilogy again prior to shooting this pic. In Awakens, Rey questions whether the Falcon was the “the ship that made The Kessel Run in 14 parsecs?” Ford petulantly responds with “12 PARSECS!” The audience laughs. But it’s not a funny moment. It’s sad. Because The Falcon didn’t make The Kessel Run in 12 parsecs. It made it in “less than 12 parsecs.” And while that may seem like a small detail, how hard could it have been to get right? Again, they have EVERY POSSIBLE RESOURCE available to them. “Sorry Harrison, the line is actually ‘LESS than 12.'” Or “Harrison, can we do it again but where you yell-out ‘ELEVEN-AND-A-HALF’ instead?” Strive for excellence goddamnit. And since I’m on a Nerd Rant, did Incom and Sienar Fleet Systems get exclusive military contracts that forced all other ship designs from commission in the 30 years since Return of the Jedi? I feel like I’m taking crazy pills here.
These types of things represent a lack of commitment and sincerity that Disney should have been capable of handling. I get that at the end of the day it’s about money and generating additional revenue streams from an expanding fan base. So I’m not even gonna discuss TFA’s other weak points like Carrie Fisher’s awkward delivery (hurts to say that because she’s my first bae) or the unnecessary CGI MIB/Prometheus tentacle monsters. Shall we skip my tirade on the picture’s inability to explain anything that’s happened since ROTJ? “But bro, it’ll all be explained in a future movie.” Shut the fuck up, Donnie. Just because it’s part of a series doesn’t mean you get to treat it like a television episode. There are rules. It should still be able to stand alone and yet now I feel compelled to read the novelization (let’s be real, we all know I was going to anyways).
George Lucas took us to a galaxy far, far away. Disney takes us shopping with Basic Bitches on Main Street, USA. I wanted a story from someone with a PHD in Star Wars, not something written by a 100-level course showoff. The ball has now been firmly passed into Rian Johnson’s court. And while I don’t particularly care for Brick, Brothers Bloom is tremendously under-appreciated and Looper’s obviously sick. So my faith remains unwavering in a delivery from the repetitive evil found in The Force Awakens. That’s some unoriginal ratchet shit right there.